Concordia will induct six former student/athlete All-Americans into the Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 29 as part of the annual Homecoming Week celebration. All six former standouts competed in the late 1990's and early 2000's.
Mark Hankel ’01 from football, men's hockey All-American Bryan Howard ’01, women's golf MIAC medalists Christie (Strecker) Nelson '00 and Jennifer (Kovash) Spitzner '01, dual sport athlete Adam Strainer '01 from men's track & field and football and women's track and field athlete Laura Utke '99 all earned the top honor in their sport and all six will receive the top athletic honor presented by the college.
The six will receive their honor at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. in the Barry Auditorium in the Grant Center on Concordia’s campus.
The six former outstanding athletes all had careers of distinction at Concordia, went on to earn MIAC accolades and also receive national honors during their time at Concordia.
Mark Hankel ’01 – Football
In a three year career spanning 27 games in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Mark Hankel amassed a school record 36 unassisted quarterback sacks as the anchor of the Cobber football defensive line. After his senior season in 2000 when he set a single season record of 14 quarterback sacks, Hankel was the overwhelming choice by conference coaches to receive the Mike Stam Award as the MIAC’s most outstanding lineman. Hankel was also named to the All-MIAC First Team for the second consecutive season, earned MIAC All-Academic honors, and was chosen by the American Football Coaches Association as one of 40 NCAA Division III players to play for Team USA in the Aztec Bowl in Merida, Mexico. After his junior season in 1999, Hankel was voted the Cobber’s Most Valuable Player and was also named to the Lutheran Brotherhood College All-American first team.
After graduation, Hankel began a successful career in healthcare and pharmaceutical sales. He is currently a hematology sales specialist with Novartis, responsible for educating cancer center staff and specialists on targeted therapy advances for acute and chronic leukemias. He has also become involved in coaching various youth sports and activities in his community. Hankel resides in Sartell, Minn.,with his wife, Angie, and their three children, Carson, Tenley and Teagan.
Bryan Howard ’01 – Men’s Hockey
Few positions in sports are more demanding than that of a hockey goalie. To excel, a goalie must have keen vision, above average physical flexibility and dogged persistence. As a Cobber hockey player, Bryan Howard’s dominance in goal is attributed to possessing these characteristics, in addition to his having the rare combination of durability and lightning quick reflexes that made him one of the toughest-ever MIAC goalies to face one-on-one. Howard’s goaltending record is the best in Cobber men’s hockey history. He was a two-time All-American goaltender, the 2001 MIAC Most Valuable Player, and a three-time MIAC All-Conference goalie in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He also excelled in the classroom, being named three times to the MIAC All-Academic team, and the CoSIDA Academic All-District team. Howard is the school record holder for all goalies in career victories, career shutouts, career goals against average, and single season shutouts. What made Howard great was his grasp of hockey fundamentals, his razor-like concentration, and his refusal to give up on any given play.
A cum laude graduate, Howard received his law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 2005. He is now a criminal defense and family law attorney in Douglasville, Ga., where he takes into the courtroom on behalf of his clients the same tenacity that made him an All-American hockey player.
Christie (Strecker) Nelson ’00 – Women’s Golf
As a member of the women’s golf team, Christie Strecker’s consistent play helped lead the Cobbers to a second place finish at the 2000 NCAA Division III national tournament, 20 strokes ahead of the third place team. Earlier that year, she had helped the team win its fifth consecutive MIAC conference championship. During her Cobber career, she placed in the top three at the MIAC meet for three seasons, was the low score medalist at the 1996 MIAC Championship meet, earned All-MIAC honors each year during her four year career, and was named to the NCAA Division III All-American team in 1998, 1999 and 2000. An outstanding student, she earned MIAC All-Academic team honors in 1998 and 1999, and NCAA All-Scholar Academic Team honors in 2000.
She and her husband, Eric Nelson, lead active lives. From 2000 to 2002, they were Peace Corps volunteers in the South Pacific island country of Vanuatu. They have also done volunteer mission work in Mexico and in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In 2003 they hiked the Appalachian Trail, walking 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. In 2009, they bicycled 14,000 miles from Minnesota to Argentina, passing through 14 countries in 14 months before ending their journey pedaling in the 2010 Concordia homecoming parade. Nelson is a licensed registered nurse working part-time at Mankato Clinic Urgent Care, while also operating a sewing business as a stay-at-home mom to their two children, Lolo and Max.
Jennifer (Kovash) Spitzner ’01 – Women’s Golf
A stand-out student-athlete, Jenni Kovash was named to two prestigious All-American teams following her junior and senior seasons in 2000 and 2001 — the National Golf Coaches Association All-American team and the National Golf Coaches Scholar All-American team. The two awards capped a singular outstanding career where she finished no lower than sixth at the three MIAC golf championships she participated in, and in the top 30 of her three national NCAA Division III national tournaments. She led the Cobber women golfers to back-to-back second place finishes at the NCAA Division III Championship meets in 2000 and 2001, and was a three-time MIAC Academic All-Conference award recipient. She set a tournament record as the individual medallist at 1998 MIAC golf meet. She was the leader of talented teams that were ranked third in the nation among all NCAA Division III schools when the Cobber women won three straight MIAC golf titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Inspired by her family who value education, and her desire to teach children to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, Spitzner was a student teacher in New Zealand before beginning her full-time teaching career at Little Falls High School in 2002 where she also coached volleyball and varsity girl’s golf. Since 2003, she has taught at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School. She completed a master’s degree in education from Hamline University and in 2016, a principal licensure from Minnesota State University Moorhead. She and her husband, Jason, are the parents of two children, Sydnie and Rylie, and live in Moorhead, Minn.
Adam Strainer ’01 – Football and Men’s Track & Field
A multi-sport athlete from East Helena, Mont., Adam Strainer is among Concordia’s most accomplished track athletes, holding school records in the decathlon, outdoor triple jump, indoor pentathlon and indoor triple jump. He was a two-time NCAA Division III National Outdoor meet participant and earned NCAA All-America honors in the decathlon in 2000. He was a three-time MIAC individual track champion in multiple events. As a wide receiver for the Cobber football team, he was considered one of the premier receivers in the MIAC, twice being named to the All-Conference team. His teammates elected him team captain his senior season in 2000 and he finished his career with 128 receptions for 2,066 yards.
Strainer enjoys his career in natural resource management as a fisheries technician with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In 2009 he was promoted to senior fisheries technician in Helena, responsible for managing the fishery in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the waters he grew up recreating on. Most recently, Strainer was promoted as fisheries biologist responsible for all fisheries resources surrounding his hometown. Since 2010, he has coached the long jump and triple jump for his high school track and field team. He and his wife, Amy, are the parents of two children, Bricean and Ivory, and they enjoy fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and picking morel mushrooms and huckleberries in the nearby mountains.
Laura Utke ’99 – Women’s Track & Field
Utke achieved All-American honors in 1998 and 1999 and ranks among the most productive women’s track and field throwers in Cobber athletics. In 1998 she placed second at the NCAA Division III national meet with a school record in the hammer throw, and in 1999 followed that with a third place finish at the national indoor meet in weight throw. She was a three-time MIAC All-Academic student in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and was elected to two national Academic All-American teams in 1998 and 1999. She has held school records in indoor and outdoor throwing events.
Since graduating, Utke has enjoyed a fulfilling career in new market development with Allianz Life Insurance in Golden Valley, Minn. She has also continued her athletic endeavors as a member of the Allianz Life Team USA women’s volleyball team and competing in USA Track & Field Masters meets, winning national titles for the 40-44 age group in throws pentathlon, ultra-weight throws pentathlon and super weight throw. Utke was inducted into the Oak Grove Lutheran High School Hall of Fame in 2014. She resides in Hudson, Wis., on hobby farm and is co-owner of Red Farm Inspired, a handcrafted creations small business.